2015 – GUWLI Launch

The Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute formally launched on November 5th, 2015 at the McDonough School of Business. As part of the Institute’s launch, faculty director Catherine Tinsley interviewed CEO of BBC North America, Ann Sarnoff, on the state of television and what it means to lead in this industry.


In addition to discussing the current and future state of the television industry, Professor Tinsley and Ms. Sarnoff discussed leadership, women in leadership, and business success.  Ms. Sarnoff started her career in strategy consulting and has been in the media industry for twenty years. She has worked with many robust brands including Nickelodeon, VH1, Country Music Television, WBMA, Dow Jones, and now the BBC.

One of the themes of Ms. Sarnoff’s career has been entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship (entrepreneurship within companies). In addition to helping start new TV brands including Noggin, TV Land, and VH1 Classic, she helped make the Wall Street Journal more digitally-oriented and expanded the brand into the executive conference business. Ms. Sarnoff is currently starting new businesses for the BBC in the United States.

Ms. Sarnoff has also been a brand builder. She is responsible for Nickelodeon products, such as Rugrats and Blues Clues brands, bringing them beyond television by extending them into apparel, books, toys, DVDs, live shows, and theme park attractions. She is currently pursuing similar brand expansion opportunities with the BBC’s big franchises, including Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Ms. Sarnoff characterized her leadership style by “Innovation, External Focus, and Leadership.” In order to bring innovation into a culture, she believes in rewarding failure – the effort of exploring and trying something new – and punishing inaction. Ms. Sarnoff stressed the importance of celebrating and learning from mistakes, even though it is often counterintuitive. Professor Tinsley referenced research that shows how having a learning goal orientation can inspire impactful, positive change within organizations.

The dialogue included discussion about how to build teams and maintain growth momentum. Ms. Sarnoff described a concept she instituted in the BBC called “Outside-In,” which helps illuminate the percentage of time employees spend understanding and interacting with the consumer compared to the percentage spent on internal meetings. Each week, each team member is expected to share something they’ve learned from someone outside the company. Professor Tinsley stressed the importance of actions accompanying any company philosophy in order to accomplish positive change.


After the dialogue, Devon Weiss, a founding GUWLI MBA Fellow, discussed the myriad benefits of the Institute for MBA students. Jennifer Heflin, a McDonough School of Business Alumna and current Senior Manager at Accenture, issued a call to action for support and involvement from other corporations, students, and community members alike.

Watch the full program: